Freedom Torch relay kicks off in SF

April 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The peaceful arrival of the Olympic flame is the calm before the storm. San Francisco is gearing up for major demonstrations in the next 48 hours against China, which is hosting the Olympics.

Major demonstrations are just getting under way and Justin Herman Plaza is a focal point where activists will be making their case for human rights.

About 200 people gathered there as local monk was about to bless Tuesday's event. The Freedom Torch will be lit at noon and will all end with a candlelight vigil Tuesday night with actor Richard Gere and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

These protestors come from all corners of the world from all walks of life, including monks, men, women, students, exiles; some wearing traditional Tibetan clothing or headbands, carrying flags and signs saying 'Olympics in Beijing, torture in Tibet.' They have come together to demand that China end its deadly crackdown on Tibetans who want to practice their own religion and culture and to be able to display a picture Dalai Lama without being arrested or the fear of it.

Some have their own personal reasons for being here, including Jaigdoo Ngawang, a VTA bus driver who spent five years in a Chinese prison in Tibet.

"They tortured me, put the handcuffs behind me, and used the electric shock. I just did a peaceful demonstration!" says Ngawang.

"I have friends and family there, close ones to me, who we have no idea how they are doing. All we know is that they are in an incredibly tense situation right now. They can't leave their homes. There's arbitrary arrests, house to house raids. It's really a desperate situation," says Wangchen Lhamo of Students for Free Tibet.

In San Francisco, police are setting up barricades to beef up security. The Chinese Consulate is closed Tuesday and Wednesday and has no comment, but China's foreign ministry accused the Dalai Lama of instigating all the violence and sabotaging the Olympic Games. The crowd here is getting bigger by the minute. After the Freedom Torch lighting, they will be marching to City Hall, where they'll demonstrate and then they are going to march on to the Chinese Consulate.

Of course Tuesday nights events will cap it all of with speeches by Richard Gere and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Then, they will have the candlelight vigil at 8:00pm. That is their plan for Tuesday. Thousands of people are expected and it is going to be packed. The official torch arrived Tuesday morning in San Francisco.


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